Canterbury Tales Essay: Importance of the Tale of Wife of Bath

Canterbury Tales Essay: Importance of the Tale of Wife of Bath

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Importance of the Tale of Wife of Bath

 

Some critiques of Wife of Bath make the claim that the Tale is an anti-climax after the robust presentation of the Prologue. Certainly, the prologue of Wife of Bath is robust. With its unstoppable vitality, strong language ("queynte" etc.) and homely, vigorous vocabulary (eg. the references to "barley-brede" and mice), it is the Wife's personality -- certainly an extremely robust one -- that dominates. There is a certain brash energy to the whole of the Prologue, whether because of the forcefulness with which the Wife presents her arguments against the antifeminists (eg. her comments about clerks being unable to do "Venus werkes" and taking it out on "sely wyf[s]" in print), or because of her histrionic presentation of the methods with which she amply gave her husbands the "wo that is in mariage". The Wife, as speaker of her Prologue, has an earthy, homely vigour that pervades the whole of the Prologue; as such, it would certainly be fitting to apply the epithet "robust" to the Prologue. [good paragraph]

            In contrast, the Tale (or the Wife as speaker of the Tale) is arguably lacking in a similiar robust vitality. Its very opening, with its Arthurian/fairy-tale references, sets the general tone -- quasi-courtly, learned, fantasy rather than the earthy reality presented with such subversive attractiveness in the Prologue by the Wife (eg. "dronken as a mous", "goon a-caterwawed"). Elegant and learned -- even a little pedantic ("redeth eek Senek, and redeth eek Boece" as well as the references to Dante) -- there is, comparatively, a lack of the energy that galvanised the Prologue. Moreover, given what the rea...


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...          As such, it would not be totally accurate to speak of the Tale as being an anticlimax. While its seeming "gentillesse" may be found somewhat colorless after the Prologue, it nevertheless reinforces the Wife's ideas of female "maistrie", and certainly this is obvious by the end; also, the ending arguably serves as a climax, summarizing many of the Wife's themes (that women should have the "maistrie", that she wants a constant supply of young virile husbands, that marriage can be happy if a husband first resigns authority to his wife (cf. her ending the Prologue with the kindness she showed to Jankin and their ostensible happiness)). Therefore, even if the Tale does not work up inexorably to a climax as the Prologue per se does, it would be unfair to claim that it has no climax, or that it is an anticlimax.

 

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